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All nations, all wars.

Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

JEFFERSON - No one seems to know who sculpted the nearly life-size Native American on his horse alongside two stampeding bison, but the huge piece of art has ended up inside the front gate of Bill and Gwin Stam's 5 acres just north of the town of Jefferson, around the hill just past the cemetery. Late this week it will be dedicated to a noble cause.

"Now, this is important," 78-year-old Bill Stam emphasizes as he explains the project that has taken him nearly a year to finish. "This is the All Nations Native American Veterans Memorial."

He's seen at least a half-dozen memorials to Native American military veterans around the country, "but they're usually on tribal land, and they're honoring the veterans from that group," he says. "To our knowledge, this is the only one that is open to all Native American nations. It's for everybody and all wars."

A formal dedication of the memorial will take place on Saturday.

Stam, who is "German, Danish and Lakota," served in Vietnam and Korea, first in the Navy and then in the Air Force. After that, he worked as a civilian hydraulic mechanic on C-5 and C-141 transports.

"I retired from that with 39 years, seven months and 11 days," he says. "After that, I went back to cowboying."

But besides tending his and Gwin's ranchette with its lush grass pastures, four horses and a little mop of a dog called Puppy, Stam's "cowboying" has included rustling up food, clothing and other forms of assistance for Native Americans not as fortunate as himself, all the way back to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where upwards of 30,000 Oglala Lakota live, although Stam was born in Iowa to a Danish mother and German-Lakota dad.

It was on the way back from a trip to Pine Ridge last June with a friend that Stam first saw his sculpture.

"We had taken a load of 250 apple boxes full of clothes to Pine Ridge," he says.

While driving across the Flathead Reservation in Montana, they stopped at a tourist spot in St. Ignatius called the Doug Allard Flathead Indian Museum & Trading Post, which had been named after a Native American businessman and philanthropist in the area until his death in 2009.

"We saw the sculpture, and we stopped to take a picture," Stam recalls.

His friend joked that the the big piece would look good in Stam's front yard, "and then when I walked around the other side of it, there was a 'for sale' sign," Stam says. "When I got home, I told Gwin about it. I guess after (Allard) died, his family didn't want it any more."

It was his wife of 14 years, whom he calls "Mama" and has Apache heritage, who said it would make a good memorial to the Native American veterans. So Stam cut the deal to buy it. He won't say how much he paid, but it swallowed up their retirement savings plus "all of Mama's cookie jar money," he allows.

"All our new carpet and new windows are in that memorial."

In August, he took a flatbed truck and his friend, Gary Cherry, back to fetch the 3,000-pound prize.

"We must have had 500 people - even Highway Patrol people - take pictures of it along the way," Stam says. "We knew how tall it was, 14 feet 1 inch, and we had to be careful every time we came to an underpass, to be sure we could clear it.

The closest to not fitting was coming off Highway 84 onto Highway 205 in Portland. At that spot, we had only 4 inches of clearance."

From then on, it was a matter of choosing the perfect spot to place the huge sculpture and getting the word out about the memorial, which has not been a problem.

Within the Jefferson community, public support has been overwhelming, Stam says.

"I'm a year ahead of schedule of where I thought I would be now. I thought I would just do a little at a time, as I saved up the money."

A half-dozen members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars helped place tons of rock around the base of the monument. A local electrician volunteered to run wire and install electricity and fixtures to light it. Other volunteers helped create a little plaza behind the sculpture, with three flagpoles for the U.S., Oregon and P.O.W.-M.I.A flags and a bench to sit on.

Native American veterans from all over the country - or their descendants - have paid $35 to have their names and affiliations affixed on upright slabs of basalt

Joyce Levesque, a friend from Eugene, offered to create a website and Facebook page to help get the word out. Her partner, Lyle Bain, volunteered to photograph the memorial-in-progress.

"We've had over 200,000 hits from 34 countries already," Stam says. "I'm just bowled away."

Right now, he's scrambling to get everything ready for Saturday's ceremony. Between the Native American beading classes she teaches and planning for the traditional meal that will be served, Gwin Stam is madly painting canvas for the three teepees that will be set up on the lawn near the monument. Friends already have cut and skinned poles that lie on the ground ready to tipped skyward.

"She's painting one teepee with horses on it, one with wolves and one with bear," Stam says mischievously. "The horses are Lakota, and the wolf is Apache - Gwin and I will have separate teepees."

The ceremony will begin with a color guard with 11 flags, followed by an honor guard and an "entry song" played by a drum group.

Then comes the national anthem, a 21-gun salute, "Taps" played on a Native American flute, the ribbon cutting, a few speeches and the food.

The Stams expect at least a dozen representatives from Pine Ridge, the governor of the Shawnee Nation in Oklahoma, several members of the Blackfoot tribe and a Navajo member whose brother was killed in action in Vietnam and several former prisoners of war, as well as many Native American veterans from nearby cities in the Willamette Valley.

When he and Gwin started their labor of love to create the memorial, they didn't realize how appropriate it would turn out to be to site it on their own property, Bill Stam says.

"I just learned in the past few months that the Grand Ronde (tribe) once lived all through this area - they fished in the river right here. Their trails went all through these hills," he says. "All that makes putting the memorial here seem even more special."


When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: 3375 Cemetery Hill Road, Jefferson

Facebook: On Facebook (All Nations Native American Veterans Memorial)

Telephone: 541-327-2949
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Title Annotation:Lifestyle
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 14, 2013
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